Anna's _Norris_: One Thread in a Tapestry of Allusions to retirement poetry

On April 27, Katherine Larsen wrote:

"I'm not quite caught up with the reading yet but I've been puzzling over that book Anna sent to Clarissa, Norris's Miscellanies in Letter 148 along with some money. In the next letter Clarissa sends it back, "Pardon me my best, my kindest friend, that I return you Norris. In these more promising prospects, I cannot have occasion for your favour," she writes to Anna just after describing Lovelace's heartfelt proposal. And in the next letter Anna, sounding a tad piqued begins, by writing "I am sorry you returned my Norris. But you must be allowed to do as you please."

It seems to me that more than just a book is changing hands here. Is not this the same John Norris, one of the last of the Cambridge Platonists and the man who carried on a correspondance with Mary Astell about - and here is where my memory may falter - platonic love? I know Norris was a sometime writer for John Dunton's "Athenian Mercury" and actually figures in a book Dunton wrote about platonic love called "The Athenian Spy" where he sets Norris up in a platonic love affair and asks him to perform a platonic wedding ceremony for him. Not that Richardson would have known of Dunton's book - but what he would have known of Norris makes this an odd book to be passed from one woman who recommends her friend's speedy marriage to another who would seem to have embraced just the sort of message Norris was sending but then returns the book as soon as marriage seems likely, which should please Anna but does not seem to judging by her snippy opening to Letter 150. It seems that Anna is really less eager for this marriage than she lets on (and this only seems confirmed by her reflections on how much happier they would all be if they had only switched suitors later in L.150) and Clarissa is actually more eager than she is willing to let on. Sending back Norris is tantamount to capitulation.

Just some early morning musings,

Cheers, Kathy L.

To which I replied:

How about the idea that if Richardson means to allude to some strain of thought or imagery in John Norris of Bemerton found in the 1710 book, it's not the platonic love material specifically but more generally the whole feel of retirement and withdrawal from the world. I was also stirred by Katherine Larsen's comments to return to some old notes and a handwritten copy I made of poems (a kind of commonplace book--perhaps others did this too before the xerox machine became so ubiquitous) a commonplace book I made, I say, from a 1710 copy of Norris I read in the New York Public Library (42nd street). If you look at the whole book you see there are a number of Pindariques and Horatian odes which recall Elizabeth Carter's Ode to Wisdom in tone and attitude. Titles of these include "The Retirement" (pp 18-9), "The Invitation" (pp 30-31, this one though a curious amalgam which recalls Herrick just a little); "The Prospect" (pp 95-6). There is also a strong tone in some of the better of the poems which looks forward to the "graveyard" poetry of the 18th century, into which the fourth volume of _Clarissa_ fits (I remember Hervey's Meditations are used).

Well, for the kind of 17th century poem which Elizabeth Carter's harks back to, here are some stanzas from Norris's "The Retirement:"

Well, I have thought on't, and I find,
This busie World is Nonsense all;
I here despair to please my Mind,
Here sweetest Honey is so mixt with Gall.
Come then, I will try how tis to be alone,
Love to myself a while, and be my own.
I've try'd, and bless the happy change;
So happy, I could almost vow
Never from this Retreat to range,
For sure I ne'r can be so blest as now.
From all Th'allays of Bliss I here am free,
I pity others, and none envy me.
Here in this shady lonely Grove,
I sweetly think my hours away
Neither with Business vex'd, nor Love,
Which in the World beat such _Tryannick sway:
No tumults in my close Apartment find, Calm as those Seats above, which know no Storm nor Wind ...

While it is perfectly possible that Richardson's use of books are, as John Dussinger suggests, "mere artifacts," used as "household items the mention of which in [Richardson's] text conveys a sense of realism to the story," Still, the book's there (and why this one rather than another) as well as a whole host of sermons and other kinds of books Tillotson, South, Gauden) so obligingly provided by Lovelace; and there are many other strains and choices of artifacts & quotations & allusions in Clarissa which seem deliberately woven in, and various critics (including Margaret Doody) have uncovered relevant threads of literary and other allusion; Murray talked of the Christian emblem tradition embedded in the book.

So while it's hard to imagine Anna patiently enduring Norris's platonic mysticism & eroticism or indulging with him happily in melancholy withdrawals, at least the latter is right up Clarissa's alley. Looking forward to the fourth volume of the novel and all the long meditations on death, there are a number of such poems in this Norris, two of which are actually not bad and are printed in some modern anthologies of 17th century poetry: "The Meditation" (in Broadbent's 2 volume Poets of the 17th Century) and "Hymn to Darkness" (printed in Helen Gardner's Metaphysical Poets). These two poems could easily have been embedded in Volume IV of Clarissa; they would have fit right in. They are also interesting because of their intellectual approach: the first is the sort of metaphysical questioning of what comes after; the second uses the image of darkness and night for God as something the poet longs for.


Other posts under this date in the novel:
             The Yearned-For Reconciliation

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